Please don’t pray for us

Jun 4, 2024
Beaten and broken heart. Paper knuckle and scrunched paper.

Next time you hear a news story on violence against women, please do not say we pray for victims of domestic violence. If you want change, here’s what to pray for instead.

Planning to get some useful advice, and assuming it existed, I went to the office for the Marriage Tribunal, as I think it was called back then, in my hometown. I wanted to make an appointment to see the person who would advise me as to whether or not I could apply for dissolution of my marriage, and how to go about that. I was told that no, I could not see the Priest until I had seen the counsellor first.

I made an appointment to see the counsellor. When I walked into her office, there sat a woman with whom I was studying a graduate course in counselling at one of the city universities. Not an appropriate start to a process, I thought, but if I have to get through stage 1 to get to stage 2 then I deal with it.

She writes a report and then an offer of an appointment comes from the office to see the Priest.

This appointment involves him asking the questions, why, what, how. He was remarkably uninterested and unconcerned that I had experienced domestic violence, that my spouse was a heavy drinker, and that a neighbour who was a magistrate in a large country town had advised me strongly, not to return to live with the man, as most likely I would be dead within two years.

The Priest briefly outlined the procedure for an annulment in such a way as to imply that I was really keen to marry again (I was not) so I should not get my hopes up that an application for annulment would be successful or heard any time soon.

The hurdles I would go through were to include interviewing us both separately and together, with the aim of primarily getting us to agree to reconciliation. I had the sense that he thought I was a very silly woman. I was being put through a test, and certainly had no sense of what I call pastoral care from the Priest. When he had finished he told me that he would pray for me.

Dear Reader, you would not be surprised to learn that my feelings as I went away from that meeting was that God was giving up on me, that I was destined for a lonely and miserable future, and that it was all my own fault. There was no hope.

Well, no point in being a Catholic as God did not care, so I gave up Sunday Mass.

On and off over the next few months, I would pop in to Sunday Mass. If I couldn’t have reconciliation with the church’s position, I could find out for myself what God’s position was. This was a time when domestic violence was simply not discussed.

Proof that God has a sense of humour and a longing for weird company (such as this bad person), I began to go to a funny little church, in which the priest could not walk so he perched at the altar on a high stool, his sermons were to the point and brief enough, there was a friendly community, a terrible choir, and a reasonable church bulletin.

The next priest who took over walked up and down the aisle while telling his sermon, always beginning with a corny joke so the kids would listen. It was all a little bit messy and I liked that. It felt like a home where God might understand me.

I probably should insert here the facts that:

I went to twelve schools, in three different continents. They were not all Catholic schools, so I am still reminded that there are gaps in my knowledge about Things Catholic. That maybe a blessing or not. I may have to wait until I am dead to find out the truth of that.

Well, what is faith if not accompanied by mystery?

I survived all that and now forty five years on we are talking about victims of domestic violence, their plight, the danger in which they might be living, the impact that DV has on all family members, children, and all the other relatives.

So please do not say we pray for victims of domestic violence, unless we are attending a mass burial of either the victims or their perpetrators.

Instead, perhaps we can pray for:

An end to all violence, especially the hidden variety. Or include the many ways that violence plays out in families and close relationships. The withholding of money, the controlling behaviour and language. The violence of words, of disapproval, mistrust and jealousy. The heartbreak of controlling behaviour, not being allowed to have ones own friends or even seeing one’s own family.

Can we pray instead for:

An open acknowledgement in our society, by medical people, by legal people and by religious leaders, that domestic violence can and does take many shapes and forms, not always physical.

For many more resources for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. How wonderful would it be if there were safe houses in every suburb in Australia where a mother and her children could stay until safely re-housed.

How wonderful would it be if there was legislation and services requiring perpetrators to receive necessary and compulsory counselling, and training, rather than waiting until they go to jail for murder or GBH.

How wonderful would it be if victims of DV were believed in and trusted to be telling the truth, rather than being asked what had they done to provoke the violence.

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